Dashboard Insight's Maroushka Kanywani recently spoke with Tristan Ziegler, CEO & President of Visual Mining and Kevin Scott, Visual Mining's VP of Engineering & Client Services about product development and data visualization at Visual Mining.
Maroushka Kanywani: Could you provide me with a brief history of Visual Mining?
Tristan Ziegler: Visual Mining was founded in 1996, and was backed by Sigma Partners and Atlas Ventures in 1997. I joined two years later in 1999 and since 2000 we have been a unique company in that we've been profitable for not only 8 consecutive years but for 32 quarters in a row.
MK: What's new at Visual Mining as far as product development is concerned?
TZ: On February 10th, we launched NetCharts Performance Dashboards™ for business users, which is a solution specifically designed for the end user. What that means in terms of Visual Mining products is that we now have two product lines; NetCharts for developers and NetCharts for business users.
NetCharts is the end product of valuable feedback from a variety of sources - our end user customers that are developers, our OEMs who are pushing out their applications to their end users and the betas that we had going for several months.
Leading up to the development of NetCharts Performance Dashboards™, some of the "pains" we heard included the existence of big BI solutions that were characterized as cumbersome, expensive and with a very long implementation cycle. The common denominator to all these pains is that the solutions are tethered to the IT department. What NetCharts does is that it enables agile performance dashboarding for the end user and we believe it will help reshape an organization's approach to BI through a combination of sophisticated analysis and ease-of-use, empowering the end user and untethering them from IT and vice versa.
There are three editions: the Excel edition, which is tied to Excel as the sole data source, the Desktop edition, which allows you to build your dashboard on any RDBMS data source in addition to Excel and the Enterprise edition, which is server-based for workgroups. Our pricing for the Excel edition starts at $500, which is a very low price point for the power that is provided.
MK: What is it that makes Visual Mining's implementation cycle so short compared to other vendors' implementation cycles?
Kevin Scott: To achieve a short implementation cycle, we've done two things at the architectural level. The first one is that we keep our own metadata model, which makes it very simple to define a data source and the second thing is we have factored in the process of connecting to the data source and building dashboards through four discrete steps: 1) Choose data sources; 2) Choose tables from the data sources; 3) Create a KPI collection and 4) Build and use dashboards.
We're fully cognizant of the fact that in many situations and depending on the use case, the size of the company or the complexity of the data, a business analyst will be able to carry out the four steps. In larger, more complex organizations the first two steps (choosing data sources and choosing tables from the data sources) may need some assistance from the IT group for example if there are impenetrable database tables where relationships are not easily recognizable or where the tables are hard to find. Then as Tristan mentioned earlier, once these two steps are completed, the keys are handed over to the end user.
TZ: You can also opt for auto generation of your KPIs.
KS: That is true. There are occasions during the process where the user is provided with the option to let NetCharts interrogate the data source itself, through our own built-in business logic and choose measures, dimensions, and filters and then build up the categories automatically. So auto generation is another way in which we can shorten the implementation cycle.
MK: One of the benefits mentioned regarding the NetCharts Performance Dashboards™, is that it can be used for a three-month or a three-year project. How easy is it to do this?
TZ: The idea behind this is Agile Performance Dashboarding™, which allows the dashboard to not only react quickly but also adapt to the changing nature of a company's business. The end user is empowered to quickly create and deploy dashboards as they wish - without using the resources of the IT department. Once the end user is connected to a data source it is up to them to define what they want to see.
KS: To add to what Tristan just said, Agile Performance Dashboarding™ is a strong point of part of our value proposition. The point we want to make when we talk about a three-month project is that with traditional BI tools, you would not consider using those tools on a three-week project simply because you wouldn't have time to spin it up.
MK: Who is your target market?
TZ: We target the mid-market which is typically made up of companies that don't have large IT departments - and there are very many companies like this out there. We're appealing to users who want to analyze data in a simple and easy-to-understand manner. It's about putting the power of BI into the hands of the end user - but without the large price tag and large implementation cycle.
Think of it in some ways as the appeal Excel has to so many people; we believe that is the appeal NetCharts will have.